Christ is risen! He’s made it through. His “it is finished” from the cross holds up against death and the grave. Nothing can hold crucified Jesus down. The grave has lost its grip.
Mary Magdalene went to the grave very early in the morning. It was Sunday, the first day of a new week. It was still dark. In the dim light she saw the stone door had been rolled away, the grave was open. She assumes the logical worst – someone had taken the body of Jesus. That was the reasonable thing to think. Dead men don’t rise. Someone must have moved the body. “They’ve taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.” Jesus is missing.
Peter and John race to the tomb. John is faster, Peter a bit braver. John stoops down to have a peek inside. Peter rushes headlong the tomb. Good old Peter, always the first. He sees the burial cloths lying there where Jesus’ body had been laid out. Everything is tidy and in order, the burial cloths folded neatly, as though Jesus had made His bed after getting up from sleep. If someone moved the body, they forgot the burial cloths. And then who would fold them up so neatly? John looks in and sees the same things. (It takes two witnesses to establish something legally.) A realization began to dawn: Jesus is risen. The grave has lost its grip.
Peter and John see the evidence, but they hadn’t seen Jesus. That gift was given to Mary Magdalene. She stood outside the grave sobbing. What else can you do? You’re best friend and teacher died and now his body is missing. Tears flow. She looks into the tomb and sees two shining angels in white sitting on the shelf where Jesus’ body had lain, one at the head, the other at the foot. Recall that in the OT, there were two angels on either side of the ark of the covenant, facing each other. The same image is pictured here. Jesus has made the grave a most holy place.
Mary looks over her shoulder and sees a man standing outside. He must be the gardner. Does he know where Jesus is? Did he take the body? He says her name, “Mary.” The voice, the sound of her name. A sheep knows the voice of her Shepherd. She throws herself at His feet and grabs on tightly to His ankles. “Rabboni, my Teacher.” “Weeping remains for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Jesus turns her tears of sadness to tears of joy. The graveyard is now a happy place for her. She had her Jesus back and wasn’t about to let Him go.
“No need to keep on holding me,” Jesus says to her. He’s not going anywhere. “I’ve not yet ascended to the Father. Go and tell my brothers.” They needed to be told; He gives that holy task to her. This poor woman with the miserable train wreck of a life whom Jesus had rescued from the grip of the demons gets to tell the good news first. “I have seen the Lord.”
Those are the plain and sober facts of Easter. An empty tomb. Folded burial cloths and head covering. Two angels. A risen Jesus you can lay hold of. Not a vision, a ghost, an illusion, or a fond wish. A bodily risen Jesus. There are eyewitnesses – John, Peter, Mary. Soon the other disciples. By the end of the month, over 500 witnesses, people who had nothing to gain and everything to lose by making this up. All with the same remarkable message: Jesus who was crucified is risen. The grave has lost its grip.
First century Greeks didn’t believe in resurrected bodies. Immortal souls, no problem. But not risen bodies. Spiritual resurrections were fine, but not bodies that rise up from tombs leaving neatly folded burial cloths behind. The apostle Paul is blunt and to the point with the Christians of Corinth: If Christ has not been raised, your faith is empty, futile, and you are yet in your sins.
If Christ isn’t raised, there is a body of Jesus out there somewhere, some bones in a box with Jesus’ name on it, like James. If Christ isn’t raised, that chapter from John you heard is a myth, a pious legend, even worse, a fraud. If Christ isn’t raised, then my friends, you need to find another religion, and soon.
Never mind all the fringe benefits of “being a Christian,” how it brings you peace of mind or joy in your heart or helps you through life’s problems. Forget it all. If Jesus isn’t raised, those things don’t matter in the long run. “If our hope in Christ is only for this life, than we are to be pitied more than all men.” We really are a pitiful bunch of dupes, if Christ isn’t raised.
You can’t have Jesus the teacher, Jesus the great moral example, Jesus the prophet, Jesus the nice guy who did nice things for people without the Jesus who hung dead on a cross and rose bodily from the dead. If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then the Christian faith is not one of the “noble” religions of the world, it’s a big fat lie and not worth wasting your Sunday, let alone your life over.
If Christ isn’t raised, you may as well play soccer on Sunday, read the newspaper, go to the beach or the desert, get on with your lives as best you can. Eat, drink, be happy, be nice, be safe, live fast and hard – for tomorrow you die and that’s the end of it all. That’s your good news if Christ isn’t raised from the dead.
If Christ isn’t raised, you can have chocolate Easter bunnies and baskets full of colored eggs and bouquets of springtime flowers, and that’s all of Easter you will have. A celebration of spring. If Christ isn’t raised, you can have Easter supper without the Lord’s Supper, you can feast on meats and wines but it won’t be the feast that the prophet Isaiah pictured because the shroud of death still hangs over everything.
If Christ isn’t raised, you are still in your sins. That’s the worst of it. That awful cross accomplished nothing. There is no atonement for sin. It’s all up to you to balance the scales. You have to fix things. You have pull yourself up. You have to balance the books yourself, and you better not waste any time, because you don’t know how much time you have.
If Christ isn’t raised from the dead, you are imprisoned in your old Adamic self. In Adam, all die, and you’re no exception. If Christ isn’t raised then it’s only a matter of time before death punches your time clock and you receive the just wages of sin – the cancer cell, the stroke, the blown blood vessel, the stray bullet, the strange virus. Even if you spent your life doing all the things you think Jesus would have you do, it’s all for nothing, if Christ isn’t raised.
But Jesus Christ is risen. That’s the abiding joy of this day. The tomb is empty and ordered. The crucified body is risen. It’s a witnessed fact of history. Mary and John and Peter and the Twelve, James and all the apostles, 500 all say the same thing to us. “We saw Him. We touched Him. We ate with Him. We heard His voice. He is risen from the dead!”
Have you noticed the world seems to check in with the church twice a year – at Christmas and Easter? That’s when you’re most likely to see books and television specials that question the historical facts. This year has certainly been no exception. When you strip everything else away, these are the twin pillars of the Christian faith – that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God in human flesh, born of a Virgin, and that He is crucified and risen bodily from the dead. No other Jesus than one who fully shares your humanity can bear your sins. No other Jesus than the One who died and rose from the dead can conquer your death. No other Jesus than the One whose ankles Mary held onto so tightly on that first day of the week.
As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. No one will sleep in on that final Easter Sunday, whenever that day comes. Those who trust Jesus and His completed work to save them will rise to eternal life. Those who refuse to trust Him and reject what He has won for them, will rise to eternal condemnation, which is a waste of a perfectly good resurreciton. But all rise. Every single son and daughter of Adam and Eve will rise in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
The grave has lost its grip. “O death, where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy sting?” The sting of death is sin; the power of sin to kill is the Law. God’s Law, the Law we break each and every moment of our lives. It’s killing us. Driving us to the grave. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Christ is risen! His death is Death’s demise.
Christ is risen! Death is swallowed up forever.
Christ is risen! Sin is washed away.
Christ is risen! The devils cower in fear, their reign of darkness is ended.
Christ is risen! A new creation has dawned; the old is gone, the new has come.
Christ is risen! Adam is lifted up from the dust of death.
Christ is risen! And in Him you live.
The feast is ready for you dear baptized believers. The finest of foods, the best of wines. Not in the parish hall, but here where the Lord is having His mountain. Here, where the bread is the Body of Christ, where the wine is His Blood. Death is swallowed up in victory.
“Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
In the name of Jesus,